• Priyanka Sarkar

How Psychedelia Art & Aesthetic came into being with reference to visual culture

Few visual cultures have permeated contemporary life the way that psychedelia has, and colored expectations of transgression and the re-enchantment of life. If something can undo convention and oppression and make things good again, it is psychedelia. It promises fun, spirituality, togetherness, and sex has pervaded all art forms and levels of culture, in ways that make Pop Art seem academic. But psychedelia also turned into a clichéd format of excess. Its stylization of freedom and anticipated non-conformism ultimately challenged the imagination and pleasure that it was supposed to stimulate. Just consider how the history of the sixties' counterculture was populated by references to expansive male subjects, flaunting myths of a white west's recovered innocence.



When we view the psychedelic movement of the 1960s from the perspective of visual culture studies and Mitchell’s (author) pictorial turn, many points of correlation begin to emerge. Although it predated the growth of visual culture studies as a discipline by decades, the psychedelic movement shared so many of the same methods and concerns that it would be fair to consider its theories of vision as early utterances in the field of visual culture studies.

Psychedelic art, for example, was generally designed to privilege performative, spontaneous experiences of sensory stimulation and visual pleasure; rarely was it created merely as a text to be read and interpreted. When textual models were employed, words frequently took on an intense visuality that blurred the line between the linguistic and the pictorial, as seen in the swirling, almost illegible lettering of psychedelic rock posters, or the avant-garde typography and page layouts of Timothy Leary’s books and the newspapers of the underground press.

According to “One Proton at a Time. Art’s Psychedelic Connection”, a catalog prepared by Lars Bang Larsen for a 2013 London exhibition, drug cultures often attempt to redress the impossibility of modern experience in un-stimulating and easy ways – take a pill, expand your mind, enjoy spiritual awakening pharmaceutically guaranteed – and psychedelia was famously part of the counter-cultural turn towards New Age holism that attempted to heal a broken world with narratives of harmony. Other aspects of the psychedelic imagination, however, are oriented towards difference. These prepare for the departure from existing conditions to explore the unknown, or even other forms of being through empathy with the non-self, the elsewhere and the next moment, in which one can attain another body (and be transformed into a bird, a molecule or a stone), or connect to other temporalities (crooked or spiraling timelines, deep pasts, and future worlds...). Through this, the radically foreign continues to act upon us by challenging the adequacy of our representations.

Progressively, the visual language of psychedelics started well before the drug was found. The vivid late-nineteenth-century Art Nouveau (and Vienna Secession), which is described in the following passage, typefaces and realistic examples that characterized fin de siècle (end of the nineteenth century) youth societies are immediate forbearers of '60s hallucinogenic. During the 1920s, Surrealist, investigation of the dreamscape was additionally an exception for what might become psychedelia during the '60s.


Discussing Art Nouveau, producing lovers in the enriching and realistic expressions and design all through Europe and past, Art Nouveau showed up in a wide assortment of strands, and, thus, it is known by different names, for example, the Glasgow Style, or, in the Germans cresting world, Jugendstil. Nouveau was planned for modernizing configuration, trying to get away from the wide-ranged historic styles that had recently been mainstream. Artists drew motivation from both natural and geometric structures, advancing rich plans that assembled streaming, normal structures taking after the stems and blooms of plants. The accentuation on straight shapes overshadowed shading, which was normally spoken to with tones, for example, quieted greens, tans, yellows, and blues. The development was focused on nullifying the conventional chain of command of human expressions, which saw the so-called aesthetic sciences, for example, painting, and figure, as better than creating based enlivening expressions. The style left design generally sometime before the First World War, making ready for the improvement of Art Deco (style of visual expressions, engineering, and plan) during the 1920s, yet it encountered a famous recovery during the 1960s, and it is presently observed as a significant ancestor - if not a vital part – of innovation.

Between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, a small phenomenon known as psychedelia dominated much of the period’s counter culture. The psychedelic culture that emerged during that time, which, with its intent to discover a new realm of freedom and liberate peoples’ minds, is seen today as a mere blip in the history of art. Psychedelia gave rise to an aesthetic culture that has been consciously dismissed and neglected from art historical curiosity and is at times placed in line with a kitsch41 aesthetic (the art/object which attracts popular rather than the ‘high-class’). To sort through this grave neglect and condemnation of psychedelic culture, it will be necessary to place its main manifestations within the culture of the time, specifically the psychedelic poster aesthetic as well as artistic production and certain fads. It is also relevant to put psychedelia in line with the primary notions of kitsch.

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